Holy Varanasi

Varanasi Travel Blog

 › entry 22 of 33 › view all entries
1st journey on the famously overcrowded Indian trains.  The train to Varanasi has no classes or seat allocation so fully expecting to be crushed between 50 locals on my seat.  Walked past the train on platform 1 with a scrum trying to get on the train.  Thankfully my train was waiting for me and found a relatively quiet carriage to enjoy the journey.  The train a typical giant of the railroads that must take a serious amount of power from the diesel engine to pull.  I was soon joined by a couple of German travellers to provide safety in numbers.  We cruised passed an endless view of farming fields. 

Having agreed with the Germans to share a cab to a hostal they had been recommended, we devised our plan of action to avoid the infamous taxi touts that claim a fee from prospective hotels only for the extra charge to be passed on to the tourist.
  On disembarkation, we immediately got collared by a rickshaw driver.  Easy to pass him off given our numbers and baggage, he still tracked us to the taxi rank where he tagged his taxi driver buddy.  Determined to pick our own taxi, we walked off only for our chosen driver shying away from a face off from the taxi pimp.  We were stuck with the boss.  I was unashamedly rude to him as he sat on my knee making sure his driver took us to the correct place.  Warning that our hostal was a little off the road, we had to tactfully make sure we got to the correct hostal without letting him get to the hostal to claim a fee.  It somehow worked and we offloaded our tout without paying over the odds for either taxi or hostal.

Vishnu Rest House immediately welcoming.
  The atmosphere helped by Christopher, (the very friendly manager with excellent English) and helped by a number of other customers who have made the hostal their home for learning various Indian traits e.g. tabla, yoga. Had a meal on their bamboo roof  top terrace feeling I could enjoy it here.

With tours booked with the hostal for later, I had a free day to discover Varanasi.  The hotel lacky took me down to where the ghats on the banks of the famous River Ganges and pointed me in a good direction to have a wander.  Varanasi is the holiest of Hindu cities and where Hindus travel to die in the hope they will receive enlightenment.  On the flip side, the Ganges is 3000 times over the acceptable toxicity levels in Europe ! I walked along a succession of ghats with steps leading down in to the water with dozens of Hindus fully submersing themselves in the "purities" of the holy river.
   Found a square with some benches to relax and take in the scene.  Cows and water buffalo everwhere, but quite amusing that they have found a taste for eating the abundance of marigolds draped around all the the temples and shrines.  Being sacred, they can get away with it :-). 

Picked a point in the map (Ramnagar Fort) and went for a further adventure.  Wandered through a warren of dusty, dirty backstreets.  The only street cleaning going on is elderly women picking up cow and buffalo crap and loading it in to baskets.  Subsequently saw that they then split it in to pancakes and leave in the sun to dry.  Kids up to the age of 7 walking around naked. 

Eventually found my way to the pontoon bridge to cross the river to the fort.
  Ramnager fort slowly falling in to disrepair but still has a very pleasant entrance gate and well maintained gardens.  The only really attraction is the museum of antiquities dating when the family of the owning raj had more prosperous days.  Walked through a few corridors of dusty and ill kept vintage cars, elephant carriages and armoury from the days of the British Empire.  Nice enough. 

Wandered back to hostal seeing a few of the famous Hindu temples, but mome accessible to non Hindus.  Instead got back to the hostal in time for my 1st boat trip on to the Ganges. 

Every day there is a Hindu celebration on the banks of the Ganges.  We took a boat down to watch from the river as two main stages on two of the most historic ghats danced and played drums.  With 200 boats jostling for position, happy to be in one of the bigger rowing boats as a few of the motor boats care free in barging through the crowd.  Impressive display even without fully understanding the meaning of the ritual.

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photo by: rotorhead85